Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Edna Mode - Product Manager Extraordinaire

While I love all the Pixar movies, I am especially fond of The Incredibles for the amazing lighting, and for the huge orchestral score, and for Edna Mode. Edna is the diminutive Euro-Japanese fashion designer who bemoans the fact that while she used to "design for gods" she is now relegated to designing clothes for super-models "Nothing super about them... spoiled, stupid little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves" but then realizes her ambition of again designing suits capable of being burned, stretched, and tortured on the bodies of most of the world's then-many super heroes.

But I digress.

Why is Edna Mode, a wacky made-up character for a cartoon, my favorite candidate role-model for a product manager (or as some ex-Microsoft dude calls them, Program Managers)?

It all has to do with the cape sequence. Or should I say, the "No Capes!" sequence.

The "No Capes!" sequence points out some of the most important but least understood aspects of product management.

1. A great product manager abstracts from market samples to identify trends.
2. A great product manager doesn't just do what the customer asks.
3. A great product manager has the market data to back up her projections.

Let's look at these in more detail.

Abstracts from Samples

This is sometimes called "trendspotting", but at the core it is looking at lots of things or listening to a bunch, and finding emerging themes. If you're not careful this can increase paranoia, but otherwise it can be lucrative. Identifying market trends before competitors can put you in a key early market position.

Bob opines "You can't generalize about these things..." but is completely shut down by Edna's fastidious market research and machine-gun delivery, proving that yes, indeed, clear insight and the power to recognize emergent themes is exactly what a great designer does.

Doesn't Do What Customers Ask For

Bob Parr says to Edna regarding her "No capes!" statement, "Isn't that my decision?" Clearly not, as she goes on to prove in step 3 -

Using Market Data To Make the Point

Edna points out in dazzling chronological order (aided by great visuals) of the details of every case in which a cape caused the wearer's untimely demise. She quotes them, hero and date, at a time when she is clearly not had time to prepare for seeing Mr. Incredible. She must have had these facts rolling around in her head for a long time before she finally needed them.

So there you have it - three reasons why Edna Mode is my favorite fictional product manager. Now go away and design something phenomenal, and call me when you get back - I love our little chats...